NBC’s Next Live Musical: Peter Pan

NBC's Peter PanNBC announced its next live musical production recently. That show is Peter Pan. Though the Disney version is better know, we’re dealing with the 1954 musical written by Moose Charlap, Jule Styne, Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. It really is a crowd-pleasing show. The musical was so popular that NBC already did three live broadcasts of it (two starring Tony-Award winner Mary Martin, one with Mia Farrow in the title role) over 50 years ago. The show has toured all over the world and arrived on Broadway four separate times.

The problem, dear friends, is the role of the native Neverlanders in the musical. The racism is not as pronounced as Walt Disney’s literal redskins in “What Makes the Red Man Red?,” but it is problematic all the same. The big number that introduces Tiger Lily and her tribe is “Ugg-A-Wugg” and it’s a doozy. It’s mock-tribal chants and war whoops set over drums. The characters are typically dressed in stereotypical garb: doeskin leather, body paint, and war bonnets. A peace pipe and teepees are usually involved.

The song is so questionable that the arrangement is constantly revisited to eliminate as many of the lyrics and chanting as possible; the long-running worldwide tour uses it mostly as a dance number now. But those rights aren’t readily available. This is the version that NBC has broadcast before and probably attained the rights to.

Your move, NBC. There’s no way the network will let that song on the air, but that also means rewriting the book (and it needs a lot of rewrites to fit all three acts into two hours with commercial breaks and spectacular lighting effects) and score to cover for the gap. There’s not a lot of music left in the show at that point and it is the only big production number outside of “I’m Flying.” I’m curious to see where they go with this.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like this version of Peter Pan. There are so many charming elements, like a wild animal ballet to introduce the wonders of Neverland and some really beautiful ballads that don’t get their due, but the “Ugg-A-Wugg” of it all is just too much. That one song is the reason why I hoped NBC would step away and just do the long-gestating My Fair Lady TV adaptation or something completely unexpected like Honk or Seussical.

What do you think? Can this project be salvaged? Sound off below.